Nobody was tougher than Owney Maguire.
I remember my parents telling me that when I was little. Especially whenever I told them I wanted to be like Fonzie from Happy Days because, "He was tough."
"Fonzie's cool...not tough," my dad would say as he looked up from his paper to see who I was talking about. "There's a big difference."
"Who was the toughest guy you knew growing-up?" I asked.
"Owney Maguire," my dad said matter-of-factly.
"Oh my, Owney Maguire, " my mom echoed from the kitchen. "He was tough...it's a shame what happened to him. That was really sad."
"What happened to him?" I asked all concerned.
"They found him dead a couple of years ago," my dad said as he turned the sports page. "He hung himself in some abandoned building over in The Pocket."
"The Pocket". My dad would always tell us of the legend of The Devil's Pocket as we drove through the neighborhood on our way to my Grandparents House.
The legend is that they call it The Devil's Pocket because years ago a priest commented on all the young Irish hoodlums running amok in the neighborhood and said, "Those kids in that neighborhood are so bad that when they all go to hell they'll steal the watch out of the Devil's own pocket."
Notice the priest said "when" they go to hell...not "if" they do. That tells you a lot about the character of the neighborhood back then.
Today the Devil's Pocket is hardly what it used to be. The neighborhood's proximity to The University of Pennsylvania and the very trendy area of Graduate Hospital make it an ideal location for gentrification.
The most visible evidence of this gentrification is the conversion of the old Naval Home. Once a sprawling, albeit dilapidated, parcel of land, the Naval Home has been transformed into a gated and very trendy townhouse community.
Even a casual tour of the neighborhood reveals that not only has the physical appearance of The Pocket been altered, but the general demographic has shifted as well.
Gone are the age-hardened, blue-collar workers who used to walk the short commute to the PECO Schuylkill Generating Station and Kelly Brickyard. Today the workforce is decidedly younger and more white-collared as evidenced by the steady stream of bicycle commuters peddling across the South Street Bridge toward the higher-paying gigs of The University of Pennsylvania and Children's Hospital.
Makes me shake my head and think, "Man, Owney Maguire would never ride a bicycle to work...it just wouldn't be tough."